Locals remember the festival to end all festivals

Woodstock may have been 50 years ago but it still rings vivid for a lot of people who were there

By Rick Romancito
Posted 8/8/19

I wasn’t there. I wish I had been. Mainly because the Woodstock Music and Art Fair that happened Aug. 15-17, 1969 at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm near White Lake in Bethel, New York, 43 miles southwest of Woodstock shook the earth and changed the planet.

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Locals remember the festival to end all festivals

Woodstock may have been 50 years ago but it still rings vivid for a lot of people who were there


I wasn’t there. I wish I had been. Mainly because the Woodstock Music and Art Fair that happened Aug. 15-17, 1969 at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm near White Lake in Bethel, New York, 43 miles southwest of Woodstock shook the earth and changed the planet.

The “Aquarian Exposition: Three Days of Peace & Music” drew an audience of more than 400,000 hippies, freaks, hangers-on, acidheads, potheads, music lovers, straights and wild children. The music, if you could get close enough, featured a mind-blowing lineup including Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Joe Cocker, Country Joe and The Fish, John Sebastian, Richie Havens, Canned Heat, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who, Ten Years After, Sly and the Family Stone, The Jefferson Airplane, Arlo Guthrie, The Band and so many more.

Unfortunately, though, a planned 50th anniversary concert event, which had the support of original producer Michael Lang, fizzled and was canceled as of July 31.

On the lineup were performers such as The Killers, Imagine Dragons, Halsey, Miley Cyrus, Robert Plant, The Raconteurs, Cage the Elephant and Janelle Monáe, as well as several musical acts that had performed at the original 1969 festival such as Dead & Company (featuring three members of the Grateful Dead), John Fogerty, Santana, David Crosby, Melanie, John Sebastian, Hot Tuna, Canned Heat and Country Joe McDonald, according to media reports.

I guess, what was could never be again.

Still, a lot of people have fond memories of that first concert. Some who contacted Tempo offered their memories. Here, then, are some Woodstock memories … goin’ down the country.

Thousands of freaks

I was an executive secretary in NYC and left the job at lunch to drive to the Woodstock festival. My ex-husband and I purchased tickets in advance and we reconciled to go together. The fences were down and tickets were not needed. There were thousands of us “freaks” converging and it was miraculous. The town’s people offered sandwiches on the roadside to welcome us. We bathed in White Lake, walked for miles and smoked joints with our tent neighbors.

I could hear Richie Havens in the distance. There has been nothing like it since.

— Sandy Miller, Arroyo Hondo

Big year

It was a big summer for some of us ‘69ers. For me, 1969 started in August of 1968. I lived in a small, southern New Hampshire town and word had it that a big, BIG music event was happening in Woodstock, N.Y. in August of 1969. My summer of 1969 stacked up like this:

• June 17, 1969 – high school graduation, Exeter High School

• July 20, 1969 – 18th birthday & Apollo Lunar Landing!

• August 15, 16, 17 – Woodstock Festival – three days of peace, love and music

Senior year of high school started in September 1968 and we began our trip planning for the summer of 1969. After a quick poll of the in-crowd, about 30 of us were definitely going.

Time flies, we learn, we grow, we love, we fight, we play, we plan. Some make other plans.

August 14, 1969 – my boyfriend and I catch a ride to the Hampton Beach tollbooth. Thumbs out, we embark down I-95 South. A handmade destination sticker “WOODSTOCK or BUST” adorned my companion’s valise – for real – an old-timey suitcase, made of balsa wood with a striped finish.

One ride and we made fast friends with two swell guys from Andover, Massachusetts, driving a black, 1960+ Plymouth Barracuda! None of us had tickets but it didn’t matter – our plan was now in place. It was about 7:30 p.m.

Crossing the Hudson River via the Beacon Bridge at about 3 a.m. was priceless. Then came scoring four tickets from some God-fearing Manhattan socialites, for free, if we would stop long enough to let them turn around!

We did. We parked. We walked, asking for advice as we trudged along - “How much further?” we asked. “Oh man, just a mile or so.” Invigorated we carried on. “How much further?” Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Shift the gear. Walk. Walk more. “How much more? “Oh man, about five miles.” Dismayed, we moved on. We could hear the music. We had arrived!!! We surveyed, we perused as best we could and picked our spot. Made note of our surroundings. Home for three days; rain or shine; sit up – legs out; lie down knees to chest. Music. Rest. Sleep all tucked in in our faux LL Bean sleeping bags with the “deer in the woods” flannel lining.

The music. The people. The fun. The industrial garbage bags full of granola handed off the stage by Arlo Guthrie - “NY Thruway’s closed, man!!” 500,000, half a million people here, man!

The music. Grace Slick in that white fringed suede jacket screaming in the early morning dew soaked landscape - “Don’t you want somebody to love? Don’t you need somebody to love? You better find somebody to love!” Sunrise. Perfect.

Hungry. Music. Food search. My turn. Hare Krishna encounter – all good; they bandaged my foot gash and directed me to bagels and pink lemonade, no brownies?! Leather sandals were not the best footwear choice for the event.

The pink and white tent for ODs via the brown acid. The helicopters flying in some of the best music of our lives. Hendrix. Santana. Janice. Crosby Stills, Nash and Young! Country Joe McDonald. Ravi Shankar. The Who. Grateful Dead. Richie Havens. Joe Cocker. Melanie. Arlo. Joan Baez. Canned Heat. Mountain. Incredible String Band. Tim Hardin. CCR. Sly & The Family Stone. Country Joe & the Fish. Ten Years After. The Band. BS&T. Santana. Paul Butterfield. #Unfuc-ingbelieveable. Over. Unforgettable. Meet up, jump in the Barracuda and head back to Massachusetts and N.H.

My mom’s friend called to see if that photo of the girl, on the cover of Life magazine, with the red suitcase, leather sandals and suede jacket really was me???!!! Alas, it was not me. I was probably right behind her though!

The four of us hooked up to go see “Woodstock, The Movie” in the Cherie Movie Complex in Boston, Mass.


Like the concert, high school graduation is also 50 years gone by.

— Deborah Nason, former Taos resident

Didn’t have a ticket

Stuff I remember about Woodstock:

I had just graduated from high school, just turned 18. I remember telling my parents I was going to go, and they said, “Let’s have a talk about that.” I said: “Have a nice talk. See you later.” I didn’t mention it until my ride was in the driveway.

My friend Billy’s parents let them take their car. Anywhere around the festival, people piled on the hood, the trunk, even on top. I am pretty sure the car did not return in the same condition it left home.

I didn’t have a ticket. I remember trying to find one all over the place. Not one to be found. We picked up someone in Manhattan, looked for tickets there, too. I decided to go anyhow, even if I didn’t have a ticket. The search for tickets ate up all of Friday, that and how Walter was very mellow, stoned and slow. He took forever to get ready! He was working as a cab driver in New York City at the time.

By the time we got to the festival vicinity, it was well after dark on Friday night. We heard the fences had come down and it was a free show. We found an abandoned farmhouse, not so far away and moved in for the weekend. We might have had as many as 10 people in our group, but I only remember three for sure. Somehow we kept track of each other, even if we didn’t spend much time in the house. I have no memory of when or where I slept, what I packed to take with me.

Since we walked back and forth to “our house” a few times, I have memories of that. I remember some boys, 10 years old or so, in yarmulkes, giving drinks of water from hoses, and giving out bologna on Wonder Bread sandwiches. Pretty sure bologna isn’t kosher.

I remember a truck driving by, and someone was handing out festival programs. Glossy, multipage, full color. I took one, but I have no idea what happened to it. Walter might have taken it? Or maybe it never happened.

I remember someone with some kind of campfire along the road somewhere. They were tearing boards off an old barn to feed the fire, and there was something looked like Santa’s sleigh inside. No idea if that really happened either.

I remember army helicopters dropping unwrapped marshmallows on the crowd. Disaster area, they said. They couldn’t very well drop canned hams, now could they? Hard to imagine that actually did happen, though.

About the concert stage itself: it was hard to unsee the movie. What do I remember from the concert vs. what did I see in the move later?

Didn’t catch Friday night show at all. On Saturday, I remember the Incredible String Band, a folksy quartet from England, and being charmed by their song “This Moment.” It was my introduction to them. They weren’t in the movie, and so aren’t found in the “official” memory.

It was jam-packed in the crowd. I remember being pretty close to the front, kind of on the left of the stage (as seen from the audience), in front of the speaker towers. It was as crowded as sharing a twin bed or a rush-hour subway car, but as far as the eye could see. One person moved and it rippled through the crowd.

At one point, I was making my way to the port-a-potties, up the hill and back a bit. I guess I was barefoot? Thought I stepped on something, cut my foot. It had rained Friday night, and again later, so it was crazy muddy. There was a car, kind of in the audience. There was no way they could have driven out, parked a ways back, but in the actual audience. You could see the stage (at some distance) from their car. I was worried about mud in a cut on my foot, so I stopped and leaned on their car, trying to wipe mud away and figure out what kind of injury I’d incurred.

The guys in the car started talking to me. They were from North Carolina. I ended up invited in their car where they gave me a clean towel. I never did find the imagined cut. I must have got zapped by an electrical trickle around one of the speaker towers, best I can figure. I hung out with those guys awhile. It was with them that I saw Ten Years After do “Goin’ Home,” which featured prominently in the movie.

Everyone kept talking about Blind Faith, the Beatles, Dylan, the Stones. We all thought what was going on was so monumental that they couldn’t possibly give it a pass. (They never did play, but we kept talking about it.)

Main contributors to altered state, aside from the surreal actual reality, were mescaline and hashish for that particular weekend.

Kinda fun remembering about Woodstock. Those are most of the cogent memories.

— Elizabeth Winter, Taos


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